That other place – the summer house in the dreams…the one, I discover late, where the brothers visit and play cards with mother in her hostess gown, while June bugs splatter on broken screens, and a radio plays Lehar waltzes – the place really isn’t so bad.
The dreams told me if you visited there seasonally – between the squatters who find it in the rainy season and the icicles that stay for winter – it’s a rather pleasant little lake house, a cottage really, sitting in a clump of woods behind the new subdivision with the flower shop and hardware store. Minding its own 20th century business. Well water. Long table with an oilcloth. A few framed Audubons. Percolator coffee.
That house stopped showing up. Instead, there are fitful sleeps, and another kind of dream tells me a change is coming. There’s tumbling and climbing-out of a cavernous-misty place.
It involves the heart. It involves something permanent.
A deep catch-in-the-throat grief.
I am not ready.
But you’ve been making ready for a long time, the dream tells me…
It’s a summer afternoon and I’m headed home through the Woodland Drive shortcut, a quiet winding street. I’m walking by mid-size ranch houses built in the 70s, with big shade trees in front and flagstones painted white in meticulous piles on the edge of long asphalt driveways. Some houses face the lake on the south side of the road and the others face a marsh on the North Shore side. In the 60 and 70s, North Shore was an unincorporated area of Crystal Lake, Illinois. That’s where I grew up. North Shore. And on summer days like this, I took the Woodland Drive shortcut to church and play rehearsals, and biked this way to see my boyfriend on the other side of the lake. In this dream, I still stay there on weekends, and in my house in Chicago the rest of the time.
I am walking on Woodland Drive when the man in white comes up beside me – suit, vest, bowler hat tilted to the side – sporting a goatee and swinging a cane. He’s got an off-beat Robert Downey Jr. / Matthew Broderick song ‘n dance man, thing going on. A distinct change from the golf shirted guys behind the wheels of Suburus and Lincolns, who slow as they pass me, then speed off.
I quickly register this man is a theater friend from the old days.
A real talent. I heard he left to pursue serious acting roles in regional theaters and coast cities. I heard he never married.
He keeps pace with me, chattering and walking on the edge of the too-green lawns, hopping over little swails the summer rains refill. His linen suit stays uncrumpled in the mid-day heat. The breeze is an idyllic blend of warm and cool that keeps mosquitoes at bay, and makes the walking effortless.
He tells me about seasons of doing theater in tourist towns in the Southwest. Of Shakespeare festivals up north, and making a living that way. He’s into the local boy made good rep, but wants nothing to do with the provincial politics of his hometown. He won’t be staying long.
“I’ve come back to see my Mom. She’s sick,” he tells me.
We’re quite caught up in this conversation. I fill him in on what’s been happening in Chicago. About my many – too many – jobs. I go on about the new technology, the ways I get my message out. About the effectiveness of honing your message, designing your brand, gathering followers.
He kind-of listens, and kind-of dances above my monologue, and at last responds by telling me he doesn’t even own a cell phone.
Eventually, we arrive at a train station – a tourist-stop station with a boardwalk on a lake. We’ve walked to a new town altogether. Very North Shore. The other North Shore. Like the wealthy college town on the Northwest line where my Dad directed “Borstal Boy”, a Brendan Behan play, in the 1960s.
But this station is of an even earlier time.
People file past us to go to the water. A Seurat painting in straw hats and bathing costumes, with nannies and valets toting wicker picnic baskets and folded chairs. The harbor is dotted with boats, sails unfurl as they leave the pier for a twilight sail.
My white-suited friend is now far from the station, where bathers and boaters converge, taken up with the theater of the 19th century setting. He nods to me from the pier.
I turn and face the Departures Board on the platform. It will be hours before a train leaves for home. I buy a bottle of pop from a station vendor, turn toward an open field leading to the wooded lane, sure I’ll find the shortcut, and set out.
Where the heart is
Is our home
Even living quite alone
Within an atmospheric tone
Of quiet, in the place we call our own
–Winifred O’Reilly, March, 2007
Postscript. On The White Suit
“The Lucky Ones”, a play by Jenny Magnus. Two formally attired nameless men of disparate ages
meet in an unspecified location and help each other through a protracted farewell.
The Man in the White Suit
“Pure white, like shining armour, the suit shrugs off dirt and stands out like a searchlight. However, there is an obvious problem. If this material lasts forever then how will the textile mills make money, and what will happen to the workers jobs?” (on The Man in the White Suit, with Alec Guiness as Sidney.)
…Robert Downey Jr. has been photographed in a white suit.